Perhaps even more embedded in the minds of Hong Kong people, infectious diseases echo a similar storyline. Over 70% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic (able to be transmitted from animals to humans). The challenge of infectious diseases has taken a huge toll on the Hong Kong psyche. SARS and avian influenza are just two headline-grabbing diseases, but there are many other zoonotic diseases present in Hong Kong or that could easily be introduced. This threat demands that we raise our game to meet the challenges head on. A school of veterinary medicine, rich in research activities, can take up these challenges and help society by, for example, sequencing viral genetic material to identify the source of the disease, testing new vaccines to ensure we are using the most appropriate strains and by studying the epidemiology of the disease to determine the best preventive measures and reduce the use of veterinary drugs such as antibiotics.
Veterinarians play a major role in the defence against zoonotic diseases. By detecting outbreaks early on within sentinel animal populations, veterinarians are often our health guards in the first line of defence before the disease affects humans. Veterinarians save lives by working at every level of disease detection, from the level of the farm to the level of surveillance, diagnostic testing, research, regulatory medicine, and emergency response and control. Veterinary input and management of major disease control programmes has resulted in the successful eradication of many zoonotic diseases, such as bovine tuberculosis, brucellosis, rabies, trichinellosis and echinococossis. A veterinary school in Hong Kong will help provide veterinarians for these roles.Perhaps as a sign of the importance of these issues, City University has received overwhelming support from the agriculture, food safety and infectious disease stakeholders in Hong Kong, all of whom appealed to us to establish the first school of veterinary medicine.